We’ve all become hibernating experts recently, but we’re here to help you up your game. We’ve picked the best hotels in the New Forest, with luxurious yet cosy perk-filled rooms, to burrow away in and stave off the chill. Yes, we’re enamoured with Hampshire’s wildflower-strewn heaths and grasslands, thick clusters of oak, ash and beech forest and dinky ponies (amid other woodsy creatures), but with winter approaching, it’s time to swap outdoors for in at these top country breakers.
A fitting nod to the practice of ‘pannage’ (where domesticated pigs roam the forest eating acorns that might be harmful to ponies), this is the Pig Hotel’s original outpost. A top restaurant and pub with rooms in the New Forest’s verdant Brockenhurst village, it’s much loved for its laser-focus on foraged, home-grown and hyper-local dining. And there’s plenty to keep you entertained indoors.
The room For true escapism, squirrel yourselves away in Bert’s Box. This stylish modern cabin offers the utmost seclusion, set in a clearing in the hotel grounds, surrounded by herb gardens and vegetable patches. It’s sustainably built, with reclaimed-wood walls and floor-to-ceiling aluminium windows from which you can admire the countryside while your log-burner keeps things toasty. And you’ll need no survivalist skills – a design collab between tile specialists Bert & May and the Pig’s co-owner and designer Judy Hutson resulted in creature comforts with lure-you-in luxuries. There’s a snoozably soft pencil-post bed, a freestanding grey-green bath tub set by the window and a full kitchen with a Nespresso coffee machine where you can make use of local market finds if you’re determined to keep the ‘do not disturb sign on’. And, while there’s no room service, peckish loafers can snack away on gourmet and local snacks, including salami sticks and Brown Bag crisps.
Stay in The promise of the hearty 25-mile menu will coax you out of your cabin for feeding. Many consider it the best restaurant in the New Forest and dishes change depending on what the gardeners and foragers have deemed excellent that day. Snaffle down the likes of Saddleback crackling dipped in applesauce, oak-smoked salmon with pickled cucumber and cider dressing and sloe-sauce-drizzled Long Wood Estate partridge, followed by indulgent Brit puds (jammy rice pudding, crumble and custard) before scurrying back to your box.
Go out Bolster yourself up in North Face gear and brave the wilds for archery, falconry or simply a ramble to admire the surrounding bucolic beauty.
A classic stay with many ‘Best hotel in Britain’ awards to its name – plus plaudits for the delectable fare to be had in its Dining Room restaurant (courtesy of top chefs Luke Matthews and Simon Addison, and a thriving kitchen garden), Chewton Glen is a country estate you could spend weeks exploring. Outdoor pursuits – lawn croquet, tennis, golfing – inspire good sportsmanship and there’s more greenery than you can shake a tree branch at (but, do leave them alone), but as local literary star Captain Frederick Marryat found when he holed himself up to write The Children of the New Forest, being indoors here is an equally delightful prospect.
The room Without a doubt the Treehouse Hideaways are the rooms that make us want to set our alarms for next spring. These, some of the best suites in the New Forest, tap into that sense of childhood security and fun but with more boozy nights on your deck and perhaps some hot tub naughtiness. Elements of oak, Purbeck stone, shell and copper give these hovering-over-the-landscape nests a handy-hermit-with-an-MA-in-interior-design look, and there’s both a log-burning stove and underfloor heating to keep you warm in even the most au naturel situations. But, if you are looking for one of the best family breaks in the New Forest, the Treehouse Loft Suite has a sweet attic room accessed by a ladder with room for two children – they may even enjoy it as much as you. Each morning, a member of staff will pootle over on a golf cart to drop off a breakfast hamper, but if you really can’t be roused to leave for lunch or dinner, there’s round-the-clock room service.
Stay in Those inclined to stay indoors could benefit from expanding their culinary know-how, so trek (or have someone pick you up) to the Kitchen Cookery School for lessons in cuisines and techniques of all kinds. Say, South American street food, flavour-bomb curries, seasonal menus, baking and savoury and sweet classes for smalls (from £75 an adult, £55 for kids). Not only will you learn how the chefs get the end product so picture perfect, but you’ll get a feel for just how sustainable the hotel’s garden is and you’ll get to try the spoils of your labours afterwards.
Go out We reckon duck-herding and gun-dog-handling sessions are left-of-field enough to intrigue you away from your bed, or perhaps you’d enjoy the catharsis of shooting at clay pigeons. You get the best of both worlds at Chewton Glen too, because the coast is a mere wander away and you can arrange powerboat trips and yacht charters.
First built as a lavish hunting retreat in the 13th century for carousing nobility, then reclaimed by the Duke of Clarence as his show-off country estate, Lime Wood is still dedicated to those in pursuit of hedonistic pleasures. It’s one of the best hotels in the New Forest to fulfil food fantasies and for blissful spells in its pleasure-centre spa. The restaurant is led by superstar chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder and there’s a performative passion for food in the cookery school, where you can learn to emulate sprightly salads, hand-me-down Italian menus and succulent steaks.
The room If the born in a – very upmarket – barn look isn’t for you, then we have an elegant solution. The Pavilion Forest Lodge feels like a stately home of cosy proportions, suited to twosomes and sequestered in the grounds. The bedroom’s Love Heart-pink ceiling and walls painted with trees and birds, to reflect the area’s natural beauty, make it one of the most romantic suites in the New Forest. A king-size bed with a rosy canopy faces out to the greenery, and in the bay window there’s a freestanding bath tub for bubbly evenings with your beloved as the working fireplace flickers. It’s a room built for luxuriating and loving, but there’s more still – downstairs, the living and dining room have sofas squashy enough to curl up in for a few hours, and if the wild calls to you, you can throw open the double doors to your deck and enjoy the peace with something sippable from the big-bar larder. If you want to graze on glorious food after hours, the room service menu runs till late, too.
Stay in Follow your nose to the deliciously scented Herb House spa. There’s a limited treatment menu at the moment, but you can still be pampered from tip to toe with Sarah Chapman, Voya and Bamford bespoke facials, full manis and pedis, body buffing, reflexology and a select edit of massages. And you can borrow a pair of wellies for a quick meditative constitution around the grounds.
Go out Saddle up for a leisurely trot through the New Forest – the horse will do all the work, trust us. Rides can be arranged by the hotel. Or extend your walk along the Beaulieu River to Buckler’s Hard hamlet which has an interesting wartime and maritime history and some handsome ships to watch.
If you’re wondering which is the best hotel in the New Forest (well, near the New Forest) for eco-conscious decadence, then wonder no more. Heckfield Place’s delicious dinners (courtesy of acclaimed Petersham Nurseries and Spring chef Skye Gyngell) largely come from the emissions-reducing biodynamic farm onsite, keeping things local is a top priority (even the matting comes from rushes from a nearby river), and there’s a biomass boiler for sustainable heating. But it’s not just worthiness that won our hearts – we love the debonair rooms retouched with covetable paint hues and dressed elegantly with the owners’ own art collection and era-fitting furnishings.
The room Signature Suite the Ochre Room is painted in a warming picturesque hue that will cheer any wintry day. Ilsa Crawford protégé Ben Wilson has shown his design mettle here, picking out antiques from when the house was built in 1790 (the writing desk in particular is one to brood over in Darcy-esque fashion – well, Jane Austen did live just down the road), shapely sofas for snuggling in, chandeliers and a stylish slipper bath tub facing the countryside. It’s all very romantic and utterly Instagrammable. If you prefer your palette pallid then book the Long Room, a vast apartment set in the eaves. Beyond its beamed old-school charm, it has a terrace strewn with pot plants where you can sit side by side on day-beds and settle with the stillness of the lake it overlooks. Thirsty? Peckish? Forgot your toothbrush? Don’t fret, your very own butler will ensure you needn’t lift a finger unless you want to. The living room has a fire to get cosy by and the circular bathroom also has a tub with views to languish in.
Stay in Some rooms have boxes of boules for a gentle way to pass the time. Otherwise it’s worth taking a tour of the farm to learn more about the hotel’s Earth-kind ways. The Little Bothy spa also uses ethical products in its divine facials and massages. And, if you’re in a treat-yourself mood, try the bar’s £250 cocktail – a combination of 40-year-old cognac, champagne and Moon Perfume, a special essence made with flowers from the gardens.
Go out Hobnob with past and present nobility at Stratfield Saye House, a very grand residence bestowed upon the Dukes of Wellington. Or, take the winding woodland trail through nearby Wellington Country Park, with maybe just a quick pit stop by its petting zoo.